On the Front Foot: Fine 'Life' marks centenary of Richardson's lonely death


Click to follow
The Independent Online

One hundred years ago this month, Tom Richardson was found dead in the foothills of the French Alps, near the village of St-Jean-d'Arvey.

The circumstances of his death have never been properly explained. Richardson was one of the greatest fast bowlers who ever lived, and in the latter part of the 19th century, according to retrospective rankings, he was No 1 in the world, just as Dale Steyn is today.

Like Steyn, Richardson had everything you could want in a speed merchant: sheer pace, relentless accuracy, prodigious break and a fervent desire to remove the man at the other end. In the three English seasons between 1895 and 1897 he took 290, 246 and 273 wickets.

The great-great uncle of the recently appointed chief executive of the ICC, Dave Richardson, he played a key role in the legendary 1894-95 Ashes series that was won 3-2 by England. He was one of the most famous men of his day, tall and distinctive with a mop of black curly hair. But by July 1912 he had long since been brought low, largely because of drink.

As the playwright and lifelong cricket devotee Ben Travers put it: "One fact is universally acknowledged and unchallenged: he could and did drink a larger number of pints of beer on end than any known cricketer alive or dead."

What took him to the resort of Aix-le-Bains that summer a century ago is not known, though the place was famous for its sulphur baths. A sum of 400 francs (about £1,000 today) was found on his body.

For years, it has been convention to state that Richardson was from gypsy stock and probably took his own life. These theories are scrutinised and partly debunked in a fascinating chronicle of his life that has been written and impeccably researched by the Surrey scorer, Keith Booth, and published as part of the Association of Cricket Statisticians' "Lives in Cricket" series. It is a tale of a forgotten hero.

T20 on thin ice

For those entranced by the undoubted delights of the forthcoming World Twenty20, let the Bangladesh Premier League serve as a stark warning. The Federation of International Cricket Associations (Fica) issued a statement yesterday saying that at least 12 overseas players who took part in the tournament in April are still owed more than $600,000 (£385,000).

The Bangladesh Cricket Board has broken repeated promises to pay up and Fica said: "The process of payment to players has deteriorated into a joke." Legal action is being taken. This follows disciplinary hearings against five players for alleged malpractice in the Indian Premier League.

The International Cricket Council praised the action, but the cases reveal what has been long feared – that the IPL is less pure than driven snow.

Red Rose rises

England's cricket grounds are changing, part one. Old Trafford, where England completed a 4-0 rout of Australia in the NatWest Series on Tuesday, is a building site. The grand old pavilion has had its roof removed and is at present a shell.

The pitch had already been turned at right-angles. The new, red stand matches for colour the giant hospitality suite, known as The Point, which stands opposite. The pavilion, it seems, will be dwarfed by these structures. A pity perhaps, but the ground had to be dragged into the 21st century.

The proof of The Point and all else will be in the Ashes Test next year.

A Canterbury tale

England's cricket grounds are changing, part two. The St Lawrence Ground, Canterbury, most traditional of all English county HQs, is also a building site. A supermarket now stands at the grand entrance to the ground opposite the Bat and Ball pub. But the planned hotel that was supposed to save the county from destitution is an on-off affair, and even the good news may be shortlived.

The new lime tree planted to replace the famous old specimen which stood for more than century inside the boundary is to be moved, when and if the hotel is built.